Easy EQ Tips for Powerful Punk Rock
Mixing punk music can be a delicate balance. You don’t want the band to sound too polished, like a bunch of corporate sellouts. But you also don’t want the track to sound too raw, like a demo or a live show.
In this post, I’ll break down my favorite EQ tips for punk rock. Admittedly, that’s a pretty broad stroke. There’s a world of difference between old-school garage rock and the polished sounds of mid-2000’s pop-punk. So, I’ll be giving you practical tips on how to balance each instrument to achieve the sound you’re going for.
The kick drum in a punk song tends to move pretty fast, which means it can get a little flabby if you’re too heavy-handed with the low end. Instead, focus on bringing out the sound of the beater.
Start by using a high-pass filter to remove any unwanted low-end and make some room for the bass to live. Instead of boosting the lows around 60 Hz like you normally would with a kick drum, make sure your kick has plenty of body in the 100 Hz range. Don’t be afraid to cut around 250 Hz if things get a little muddy.
Next, try to emphasize the beater with plenty of mid-range around 1 – 3 kHz. Make sure it has plenty of click and attack in the 5 – 8 kHz range. Unless you’re going for a polished, high-fidelity sound, stay out of the 10 – 12 kHz range.
When EQing the snare in a punk mix, you want it to cut through the mix without sounding too harsh. Start by rolling off the low-end up to 100 Hz, depending on the track. Make sure there’s a little bit of oomph in the low-mids around 200-400 Hz. Add a bit more for hard rock songs, and a little less for any sub-genre that ends in -core.
The snare in a punk track is more about the crack and snap of the upper-mids than a beefy low-end. Make sure there’s plenty of “crack” in the 2 – 4 kHz range, and a little “snap” around 8 kHz. you may have to use a low-pass filter to tame cymbal bleed from the snare mics. That’s OK though; punk rock is supposed to be a little lo-fi anyway.
In other genres, you may try to surgically remove the “ring” in the snare with a sharp, narrow bell. While it’s OK to cut resonant peaks—don’t go overboard. Try to keep it under 6 dB to retain the natural tone of the snare.
The toms in a punk song are more about the sound of the stick hitting the skins than the sustain of the drum. High-pass filter as needed to avoid a big, boomy bottom end. Cut the 250 Hz range to clean up any muddiness. Cut the midrange around 800 – 1000 Hz for a more polished sound, or leave it in for a more indie rock kind of vibe. Just make sure there’s plenty of attack around 3 – 4 kHz.
When it comes to the hi-hat and other cymbals of the kit, don’t be afraid to high-pass up to 100 Hz to remove unwanted bleed from the kick and snare. Just make sure you don’t cut the “clank” around 200 – 300 Hz. Boost cymbals above 6 kHz to add brightness without them clashing with the guitars. Use a low-pass filter to prevent any harshness or shrillness.
Bass tones tend to vary quite a bit, depending on the particular sub-genre. Maybe you’re going for a rich, bottom-heavy tone like Rancid. Perhaps you prefer a bright, mid-rangey tone like Green Day or Blink-182. Or perhaps you want a dark, distorted bass like Bad Brains.
Generally speaking, the bass in a punk track sits below the kick drum. Make sure there’s plenty of punch in the 60 Hz range to carry the low-end of the track. You may need to use a high-pass filter up to 40 Hz to clean up any unwanted buzz, hum or roominess.
Make a small cut around the dominant frequency of the kick drum—if you’ve been following along, that should be around 100 Hz. Resist the urge to gut the low mids. Since punk arrangements tend to be rather sparse, the bass guitar typically helps fill in the 200 – 600 Hz range along with the guitars.
If you’re having trouble hearing the bass cut through the guitars in the mix, add a little bite around 800 – 1,600 Hz, or a little string noise around 2 – 5 kHz.
Since the guitars in most punk tracks are distorted beyond recognition, your main task when EQing is to remove any unwanted resonances. You may need to automate your EQ settings, as the exact frequencies will change with the performance. For instance, it’s common to split guitar tracks into three categories—palm muted, strummed, and picked. This will help you hone in on the specific problems for each section.
Start by applying a high-pass filter to remove any unwanted low end. With a standard-tuned six-string guitar you can go as high as 80 Hz without cutting off the root frequency of the low E string.
Use the frequency sweeping method to remove any ringing resonances. Just be careful not to be too aggressive when cutting; otherwise, you can cause the guitar to sound thin or hollow.
If there are multiple guitar tracks in one song, make sure you use different EQ settings—even if they were recorded by the same guitar—to help create separation between each part.
Heavy distortion can often create a harsh fuzziness in the high end. If your guitars sound so shrill that they’re interfering with the cymbals or vocal, don’t be afraid to use a low pass filter to roll off the highs.
Punk vocalists need to deliver emotion and attitude, so they’re usually not too concerned with proper mic placement. This can make things difficult when it comes wit to mix—especially if they were recorded live or with a handheld mic.
Start by using a high-pass filter to remove any unwanted low-end. You may also need to cut around 200 Hz to remove muddiness and room noise.
For darker, slower hard rock tracks, make sure there’s plenty of low-mid range between 300 Hz – 1 kHz. For a more aggressive, in-your-face sound, try booting around 1 – 5 kHz. And if you’re looking for a bright, edgy sound, try boosting 5 – 8 kHz.
Words like “polish,” “shimmer,” and “sheen” don’t typically apply to punk vocals, so feel free to attenuate above 10 kHz as needed.
Just remember: punk rock is all about breaking the rules, so feel free contradict anything you just read. Spin the knobs and see what happens—that’s part of the fun!
Every song is different. Listen to the recordings you have, compare them to your references, and use this info as needed to help you achieve the sound you’re going for. Good luck in the pit!